In keeping with the upcoming Special Year of Prayer for Vocations and having finished looking at Dei Verbum, the Second Vatican Council document on Divine Revelation, it may be fitting to look at the Council’s document in relation to the ministry of the priesthood.
Promulgated by His Holiness Pope Paul VI on December 7th, 1965.
The decree on the priesthood was one of the last of the documents to be promulgated. Before it came into action, a number of others had been published and due to what had been discussed in other documents that were dealing with various topics it was felt by many of the bishops that a bit more thought had to go into the role and the life of the priest compared to what was intended at first. This passage from the preface of the document states this need clearly:
Since…in the renewal of Christ’s Church tasks of the greatest importance and of ever-increasing difficulty are being given to this order, it was deemed most useful to treat of the subject of priests at greater length and with more depth. What is said here applies to all priests, especially those devoted to the care of souls, with suitable adaptations being made for priests who are religious. Priests by sacred ordination and mission which they receive from the bishops are promoted to the service of Christ the Teacher, Priest and King.”
At that time the Church was recognising what was happening in the world in relation to our faith and how our faith was being looked at in the world. As they addressed the Church’s understanding of herself (in the Constitution of the Church. ‘Lumen Gentium’), the Church’s understanding of herself in the context of the world we live in (Constitution of the Church in the Modern World, ‘Gaudium et Spes) and the understanding of Divine Revelation outlined in the Constitution on Divine Revelation (Dei Verbum) the bishops of the Council realised that the role of the priest had to be explored in the light of how the documents and what they contain would impact on the life and ministry of the priest.
The first thing highlighted in n.1 (the preface) is the connection between the priest and Jesus Christ — “They share in his ministry, a ministry whereby the Church here on earth is unceasingly built up into the People of God, the Body of Christ and the Temple of the Holy Spirit.” Priests share in Christ’s ministry and in the light of that the priest is involved in the building up of the Church as the People of God, the Body of Christ and the Temple of the Holy Spirit and all that entails every day in his life as priest.
The three chapters that consist of 21 paragraphs that come after this will look at priesthood and the life of the priest. We will look at this in the light of the Year of Prayer for Vocations to the Priesthood. As well as exploring the decree, you may also hear individual priests and seminarians speak of their own call to priesthood, as this year moves along.
Let us all pray for vocations and let us pray that the Easter season will be a time that we can see who Christ is for all of us and recognise ways of opening up our understanding of the faith to address the problems that our world faces every single day. Let us pray that we can bring the joy of the Good News to a world that sees so much pain and suffering. May we see the suffering of Christ on the Cross in any suffering we encounter personally or in the people with whom we live and we meet. May we see the light of Christ shine through these difficult times and fill us with the hope that comes from his resurrection. Amen.